Hugh Fitzgerald: The Undoing of Tariq Ramadan, Islam’s Privileged Paladin

The saga of Tariq Ramadan continues, as more revelations come out about this monstrous human being, for so long the privileged paladin of Islam in Europe. It turns out that what will likely bring him down is not his stout defense, over decades, of both his grandfather, Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and of the Brotherhood itself. Nor will it be his years of well-practiced taqiyya on behalf of Islam, lecturing here, debating there, all for the sake of Islam and its relentlessly increasing threat to the wellbeing of Unbelievers, coming back to bite him. No, it is something more banal. Professor Tariq Ramadan turns out to have been a sexual monster. Behind that impassive mask of the thoughtful, soft-spoken, well-mannered academic was someone quite different. One of his rape victims described him as being “transformed before my very eyes into a vile, vulgar, aggressive being –physically and verbally…when I cried to him to stop, he insulted and humiliated me. He slapped me and attacked me. I saw in his crazy eyes that he was longer master of himself. I was afraid he would kill me…I started crying uncontrollably. He mocked me. ..He choked me hard that I thought I was going to die.”

Another of his rape victims, who has a disability in her legs, described Ramadan as subjecting her “to a terrifying and violent sexual assault.”

Still another described how he “sexually harassed her and blackmailed her for sexual favors.”

A fourth said in her own relationship with Ramadan she was “scared for her life”: “He can be very, very violent, grabbing you very violently, expecting from you any sexual practice and demanding it aggressively enough.

These were women, all of them Muslim, who had been admirers of Ramadan, which is why they initially accepted his invitation to further discuss Islam, often after his lectures, in his hotel room. And that’s where Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde. Or he was like the figure of Treachery as Chaucer described him: “the smyler with the knyf under the cloke.

Of the four victims in Paris, two have already brought charges, while the two others are considering it. It’s not an easy choice. There is a reasonable fear that Ramadan’s supporters may indeed harm those, or the families of those, who dare bring those charges. Some may share the view Ramadan expressed that these charges are all part of an anti-Islam conspiracy, designed to bring him down, presumably because he has been an eloquent defender of Islam, perfectly fluent in both French and English; of course the allusion to a “Zionist plot” has already been made.

Nor can it be easy to choose to make public what one has undergone, including deliberately humiliating sexual practices which were forced on these women, or they were forced to perform, by the “vile, vulgar, aggressive being” Ramadan became. Many women will want to spare their husbands or children from learning about these things. So we may never know the full extent of his record as a sexual predator.

His undoing — and his full story is still unfolding — began far from Oxford, in Hollywood, with the tale of sordid Harvey Weinstein. The revelations about Weinstein led to millions of American women revealing their own stories of enduring sexual misconduct, set out at the site #metoo. The French version appeared as #balancetonporc. The first to reveal the story of what she had suffered from Tariq Ramadan was the former Salafist, and now liberal Muslim, Henda Ayari, who had written about Ramadan in her book I Chose To Be Free, describing what she suffered at his hands in great detail. But when she wrote the book she was not yet ready to name him; in the book he is called “Zoubeyr.” Now, inspired by all the stories at #metoo and #balancetonporc, she was ready to name Ramadan, which is exactly what she did, bringing charges for rape, and inspiring three other Muslim women to tell their stories, quite similar to hers, about how Ramadan had treated them.

How did Oxford react? The head of the Middle East Studies Centre, Eugene Rogan, in explaining why Ramadan would continue to teach, continue to meet one-on-one with female students for whom he was their tutor or supervisor, offered a bizarre justification: “It’s not just about sexual violence. For some students it’s just another way for Europeans to gang up against a prominent Muslim intellectual. We must protect Muslim students who believe and trust in him, and protect that trust.”

In other words, Rogan was suggesting that the claims of some, presumably Muslim, students, that this whole business was merely a gang-up to take down Ramadan, might have some validity. He should instead have answered forthrightly anyone who might have thought that way, noting that all four of the women involved so far were Muslims, that far from there being any sign of a “gang-up,” they had been most reluctant to come forward, and that two were still unsure of whether they would bring charges. What makes Rogan’s statement even more unacceptable is that apparently the students at the Middle East Studies Centre were not rallying around Ramadan, whom they supposedly “trusted” — Rogan’s justification for keeping him on — but quite the contrary, they were angry that he was being allowed to teach. The Cherwell, the Oxford student paper, reported that “students at the Oxford Middle East Centre have reacted in anger to the University’s response to the mounting accusations of rape against Islamic professor Tariq Ramadan, accusing senior figures of acting ‘as if nothing had happened.’” They were angry at not being kept informed of the charges against Ramadan. These were not students on Ramadan’s side; what angered them was the behavior of the “senior figures,” with Eugene Rogan at their head, who acted as if nothing had happened and allowed Ramadan to continue his tutorial and supervisory functions. The students exhibited a moral clarity that eluded those “senior figures.” Rogan has still not explained why he thinks Oxford had a duty to keep “the trust” of Muslim students by itself trusting Ramadan. And one might note that these students do not think what Eugene Rogan ascribes to them but, rather, were angry with the “senior figures” at the Middle East Centre for being too trusting of Tariq Ramadan, in allowing him to continue in his tutorial and supervisory roles with female students,

That might have been the whole story. Ramadan might have continued to teach at Oxford, while trying to paint those who had accused him in Paris as part of an anti-Islam cabal. It could only help his image, and therefore his version of events, were he still being allowed to teach — it would have signalled a vote of confidence from “senior figures” at the Middle East Centre, who were prepared to give him the benefit of every doubt. But then something happened, in Switzerland, that changed everything.

Quite independently of the investigation in Paris of charges brought by Muslim women against Ramadan, the Tribune de Geneve looked into Ramadan’s record when he taught in the 1980s and 1990s at a high school in Geneva. And they discovered that when he was a teacher, he seduced four underage girls, having sexual relations with three of them.

One, known as Sandra, was 15 when Mr Ramadan made advances towards her. She said he told her: “I feel close to you. You are mature. You are special. I am surrounded by many people but I feel lonely.” She started spending time with him outside of school, and “two or three times we had intimate relationships. At the back of his car.” She added: “He said it was our secret.”

Another, Lea, said she was 14 years old when the teacher approached her during a trip. “He put my hand on my mouth telling me he knew I was thinking about him in the evening before falling asleep. Which was wrong. It was manipulation. He said he thought of me but he was married.”

In her case, she says nothing physical happened. She described him as a “crooked, intimidating man who used perverse relational ploys and abused the trust of his students. There was such an impression [pressure?] on us.”

A third woman, known as Agathe, was 18 and described being “captivated by the speech of this charismatic teacher.” She said Mr Ramadan invited her for a coffee outside of school, “and then I had sex with him. He was married and a father. This happened three times, especially in his car. It was consented but very violent. I had bruises all over my body.

Agathe says the scholar[!] threatened her and demanded she tell no one about the encounters. “It was an abuse of power, pure and simple.”

The fourth woman, Claire, was 17 when the pair started a relationship and 18 when they first had intercourse. “I was fascinated, under his control. He took me, threw me [about], established a relationship of dependence.”

None of these incidents was made public before now, with one of the women expressing feelings of “disgust” and “shame” which made her stay quiet.

How many more non-Muslim women in Geneva remain too “disgusted” and “ashamed” for what they allowed themselves to endure from their respected “prof” Tariq Ramadan to come forward even now? How many more Muslim women in Paris who were admirers of the famous “scholar” Tariq Ramadan and were invited to discuss the subject of Islam in his hotel room with the great moralizer, and then were choked, beaten, raped, and threatened, will never come forward, out of shame, disgust, horror, a desire not to share such humiliations with a husband or children? Yet there is always the possibility that more women, in Geneva, in Paris, possibly in Oxford (surely he would have taken advantage of students there) will step forward. A permanent sword of Damocles hangs over the head of the once seemingly invulnerable Tariq Ramadan. No one deserves it more.

In the past Ramadan always managed to overcome setbacks. He did not take up an appointment at the University of Leiden, after he was accused of being a “radical Islamist” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” but landed on his feet, being then made a guest professor of Identity and Citizenship at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Again, he was dismissed by both the City of Rotterdam and Erasmus University from his positions as “integration adviser” and professor, because both the university and the city’s leaders felt that the program he hosted on Iran’s Press TV, Islam & Life, was “irreconcilable” with his duties in Rotterdam. A devastating book about his forked tongue, his defense of the Muslim Brotherhood, and his refusal to condemn outright some of the worst features of Islam (as the stoning of women to death for adultery), Caroline Fourest’s Frere Tariq, did not prevent Ramadan from becoming a professor at Oxford’s Middle East Centre, with a chair named, and paid for, by the ruler of Qatar. But now his past, as a violent sexual predator, seducing girls, attacking women, has caught up with him, first in Paris, and then in Geneva, and finally, in Oxford, where he’s been forced to take a “leave of absence.” After all that has been revealed, he may have run out of academic places willing to employ him, except of course there’s always good old Doha, with Qatar University, and local branches of Western universities. But he may not even get there. Judges in Paris and Geneva, now deciding his fate, may finally give Tariq Ramadan his just deserts. And it will have had nothing to do with Islam.